What I Wish I’d Said . . .
Last week, at a ninetieth birthday celebration for Elizabeth Mike, who had just published two books of her short stories, I was acknowledged for my technical assistance in getting the books to the printer. Elizabeth motioned to me to go up front and say something, but I shook my head and sat back down. In the middle of that night, I composed in my head “what I wish I’d said.”
What makes writers write?
In one way, it’s the height of naïvety—and probably
arrogance, as well—to even attempt to answer that question. Ask a dozen
writers what makes them write, and you’ll get at least a dozen answers. And I
A writer—at least one who chooses what to write—has
to come up with topics and ideas out of her own head, even if they are triggered
by outside events, memories, or reading what others write. A writer of stories,
A writer, down deep, responds to forces that are almost by definition beyond her ability to describe. There’s something there, deep inside, that struggles to be known. Essay writers, like me, are sometimes audacious enough to try to explain that something, even as we know that ultimately it’s hopeless. It just drives us to put more words on paper.
In that, writers are not all that different from other people. We all do things for reasons we’re not sure of, or at least that we haven’t been able to express except through the things we do with our lives. At our deepest levels, we sense something that is both inside us and beyond us at the same time. The gardener who plants seeds and tends the soil experiences something that connects him or her to Life, the same way a mother nurtures her children or a child relates to a puppy or a kitten. There’s something miraculous going on, and when we stop and let it in, we feel more connected to the universe.
An artist, creating a painting or a sculpture, is not working totally alone. Down beneath the physical materials she works with is a force—subtle as it may be, it pulls her and shapes what she creates. A business person, full of skill and learning, who builds an enterprise, may be focused on numbers and materials and social situations, but his urge to create comes from someplace deeper.
Storytelling is a craft that some people can learn to do well, just as an architect can learn to design a building. Great stories, and great designs, we say are inspired. Inspired by what? The rest of us try to learn the skills and the language of our chosen field, and whether our work comes to be considered inspired or not, there is still that small thread connecting us to something that seems to be outside of us but is surely a part of us all.
A writer puts into words the experiences of life. A really creative writer lets us experience things that might otherwise go unnoticed, even though they are just as much inside us. Inspired words touch us in our deeper feelings, our sometimes secret places, where we resonate with the subtle forces, the profound meanings that human beings share, even when we don’t always acknowledge them.
There aren’t words for many of those meanings. The best writers may use a lot of words to try to suggest them. The poet attempts to strip out all of the extra words, to distill the suggestions in order to make them more pure, to aim for the heart and soul without so much verbal clutter. Either way, the fine thread of shared meaning connects us to something beyond us—and to each other.
As you read these 146 stories, some that are “true”
in the sense that the events really happened, and others that are true because
they touch us at a level beneath physical happenings, I think you’ll come to
feel connected to
Donald Skiff, October 29, 2007